It appears unlikely private schools will be allowed to open earlier than public schools, as was the case last year.
On Friday, deputy basic education minister Reginah Mhaule said schools that were scheduled to reopen on January 27 will open on February 15.
Mhaule said: “We are one country and even if you are an independent school, you are a school.
“They operate within the same community and same society in the Republic of SA. We cannot treat some as if they live somewhere we don’t know.
“It’s not a matter of punishing anybody. It’s a matter of taking care of the lives of South Africans. We are taking care of the lives of teachers, non-teaching staff and pupils. It’s not a punishment or holding anyone to ransom that you cannot go to school.”
Mzwandile Matthews, adviser to the department, said they had consulted the Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa (Isasa) and the National Alliance of Independent Schools Associations (Naisa) abut the delayed reopening of schools.
“The determination made was that both Naisa and Isasa will persuade the schools that have reopened to follow the reopening protocols. The ones that have not yet opened will be persuaded to consider delaying the reopening. Unfortunately we can’t direct them. We are expecting they will consider opening and closing as stated by the deputy minister.”
Naisa chair Mandla Mthembu said while they understand and are sensitive to the urgency and the need to save lives “and the lives of our children and staff, we need to also consider the impact of indefinite delays to reopening independent schools given that we rely on revenue generated through school fees to keep teachers employed and earning a living and supporting families”.
“We do not want to see one more teacher retrenched. It is, therefore, again our appeal that government, when considering to postpone the reopening of schools, can apply its mind as to how we can keep independent schools going.”
He said online programmes were not as effective as face-to-face teaching and learning, and the majority of independent schools cannot afford such programmes.
“A position taken last year by cabinet where independent schools were allowed to continue would be more desirable.”
Sacred Heart College in Johannesburg, which had planned a staggered return next week, said it will comply with the government directives.
It advised parents that if the school was ordered to close, the pre-primary and primary school teachers had put together learning packs for each grade which could be collected on Monday.
“We would also like to encourage all our pupils to be able to access a device that will support online learning.”
The school said its high school pupils used Google Classroom and every pupil needed to have access to iPads or equivalent devices.
“The grade 7 pupils and our new high school pupils who ordered iPads from the school can collect their iPads on Thursday.”